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Colourful life of a coastal steamer

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After almost 80 years underwater, the wreck of the coastal steamer Kanowna was identified in May 2005 at a depth of 80m. On the night of February 17, 1929, in foggy conditions, the ship had struck a rock to the south of Wilsons Promontory. With her engine room flooded and without power she drifted to the south. Fortunately the sea was calm, and after a radio call for help two other ships picked up all of the passengers and crew without loss of life and took them to Melbourne. The Kanowna sank early the following morning.

Before the advent of air travel, many people chose a comfortable passage on one of the ships which operated between Australia’s capital cities, rather than use the roads or railways. Several companies, including the owners of SS Kanowna, ran regular services around the Australian coast. Older readers will remember the last of these passenger liners which remained in service until the beginning of the 1960s.

The Australasian United Steam Navigation Company had the Kanowna built in Scotland in 1902. From her arrival in Australia until World War I the 6993-ton ship operated mainly on the run from Sydney to Fremantle via Melbourne, carrying passengers and 7000 tons of cargo. She was the first coastal liner to offer three classes of accommodation for 125 first-class, 136 second-class and 250 third-class passengers.

When the liner arrived in Melbourne on May 15, 1903, The Argus newspaper described her as “a magnificently-equipped twin-screw vessel, possessing superb accommodation”. It also called her a “leviathan”, but with a length of 126.5m she was less than half the length of the Golden Princess seen regularly in port today.

Requisitioned for war service in 1914 (at first and only briefly as a troopship), she was converted into a hospital ship in England. Her service began in September 1914 and she continued until October 1919, bringing home many wounded Diggers. Returned to her owners in 1920, she was used in various services but was back on her old route when she met her end.



President, Peninsula Ship Society

T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780


The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.


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